The following is a rough transcript which has not been revised by The Jim Rutt Show or Hanzi Freinacht. Please check with us before using any quotations from this transcript. Thank you.
Jim: Today’s guest is Hanzi Freinacht, a philosopher and writer who has been one of the main developers of the ideas of political meta modernism. Hanzi, welcome back.
Hanzi: Such a pleasure to be back, Jim. Such a pleasure to be talking to you again.
Jim: Yeah, we’ve had some great conversations. This is actually Hanzi’s fourth appearance. Back in EP 36, we talked about his book, The Listening Society. In EP 53, we talked mostly about his book, the Nordic Ideology. And in EP 82, we talked more generally about taking the ideas from the two books and building a metamodernism for the future. They were all great conversations, they’re some of my most listened to episodes. And I will say, Hanzi’s work has been a significant influence on me and also on many others in the Game B community and in the wider ground that’s sometimes called The Liminal Web of radical social changers. And I’d suggest if you’re interested in the stuff you hear today, you really should read one or more of Hanzi’s books. And if you only have time for one of them, I’d recommend The Listening Society. But today we’re going to talk about his newest book just out a couple of days ago. And the title is 12 Commandments for Extraordinary People to Master Ordinary Life. So we’re going to hop into it here in a minute. In the intro, you explicitly make the obvious connection to Jordan Peterson and his 12 rules and 12 more rules. Tell us about how you see this book as a response and an engagement with Peterson.
Hanzi: Well, yes. So the reason I wanted to respond to Peterson is, well, I mean, it’s almost personal. I was academically brought up and philosophically in a sociology department in what you might call a very post-modern setting, post-modern culturally imbued setting. So people would have all of these critical perspectives on the power relations in society, the role of language, the social construction of reality, how gender relations or human nature relations or human animal relations or class relations are skewed in different ways or how knowledge is always subject to power relationships. And while I felt I wanted to break out of that and look for something that could take the next step, not just critique society, but have all of this moral sensibilities or values of post-modernism, but really construct something much like is being done or attempted through the whole Game B community and project.
And I learned about integral theory, I learned about developmental psychology. These felt like important pieces of the puzzle. And really, I felt like home when I discovered that there was another word, an integral, what comes after post-modernism. There was the word metamodernism and it came out of academia, out of cultural theorists, analyzing the arts and architecture and pop culture of our time. And I thought, “Well, what if you put these two things together? What if you have the sensibilities of really analyzing culture at depth, the real culture of people’s lives with these more spiritual and developmental perspectives that try to construct something after the post-modern deconstruction?” You keep the deconstructive or critical elements that sociologists and people in the humanities and people on the political left or people with outsider perspectives have cultivated for a long period of time, but you use them for creating visions.
And to a very large extent, this vision or this view of progress, then it becomes a developmental view of that. If we are to create sane societies or sustainable societies or societies capable of surviving, we must become much better at supporting the inner growth of human beings as personalities, of who we are as people, of the nature of our relationships, of the nature of our goals, the things we value, and well, just the institutions around us, the economy, everything. We need to take a next step after the postmodern. We need to take a step where we optimize for this very growth of us as human beings. And there I go writing the first book, The Listening Society, and I was still writing on the second book, Nordic Ideology. And one time 2017, I see this YouTube clip with a fellow named Jordan Peterson.
I have no idea about the implications of it at this time. And he said something about Truth University versus Justice University and that he would want to defend Truth University or something to that effect. And didn’t really speak to me at this time, but I noticed there was more. There was a lot of interesting thoughts here. And Peterson, he was on a crusade, he was on fire, and he picked up so much steam out there on the web and among my own friends as well and among my contacts. And I noticed that the response to post-modernism was here, but it wasn’t metamodernism. It didn’t take a step forward. If you looked at the underlying political philosophy of Jordan Peterson at that time, which he has later formalized as indeed to be a manifesto for conservatism. It is classical liberalism and conservatism, often intelligent explorations of those political philosophies or intelligent expressions of them. Sometimes not, but often so. But it just took a step back.
So the whole momentum that I had felt was building over some years, it just fell out, it just dissipated. And instead, the main movement out there on the web and culturally speaking was a sort of regression backwards, back to basics, back to the modern values of responsibility, of individualism, of being careful with too sloppily using collective identities and so forth. And I felt, “Well, okay, so I thought my role when I entered the scene, so to speak, would be to wrestle post-modernists.” And post-modernists might even say in The Listening Society, when the post-modern voice has critiqued the modern mainstream society voice properly for a long time, then the text turns and there’s a critique of the post-modern voice from a metamodern perspective. And at the very end of that, the metamodern voice says, after having teased the post-modern voice for a long time, it says, “And now let’s get out there and kick some PoMo ass.” PoMo meaning post-modern.
And that’s what I imagined myself doing. Now, Peterson was already doing that, but without the progressive content. So the critique of post-modernism was perhaps timely and in many ways useful, but it didn’t bring with it all the gains or the moral sensibilities of modernism. So at this point, we have not seen, despite the huge, huge impact of this intellectual edifice and the self-help books and so forth that came later from Jordan Peterson, we have thus far not seen the birth of the movement that our world needs nor the birth of a movement, which I feel is intellectually and spiritually satisfying. So it’s been in the pipeline for me for a long time to, okay, I have to properly respond to Jordan Peterson. And I guess I could do with that, with a discussion about his work and try to tease out what I think should be said instead, but I prefer to do things in a show it, don’t tell it manner. So I thought, “Okay, I will do it on the same game board.” In this case, self-help, individual self-help, self-improvement.
What is the metamodern response to Jordan where he has also had the largest and widest impact? That’s where the response is coming from. And in the self-help program and the 12 Commandments that I issue in my book, I should say, I don’t offer commandments, I issue them. I bake in a completely different life philosophy. You’ll notice that the overlap with Petersonian thinking, and my own is significant, but nevertheless, the underlying sentimentality is different. The aesthetics of it is different. The form of life that I imagined people must look for and strive towards in order for us to together resolve this mess of a world that we’re in right now is something completely different. And it’s a somewhat more laid back vision, it’s a somewhat more hopeful vision. At the same time, it also extrapolates being at the same time more secular and skeptical and more deeply spiritual or religious, I would say. So it’s also a departure from that Christianity and perhaps a little bit more with a, let’s say, progressive vibe, right?
Jim: Yep. Very good. Yeah, let me react to that a little bit. One of the things, I went back and actually looked at my copy of 12 Rules. I read the first one by Peterson when I came out, and my response to it was basically common sense circa of the times when I was growing up, I was born in ’53, so let’s say I was 12 years old in 1965. We wouldn’t need a book in those days, that’s just how we were brought up pretty much. But something happened subsequently, and the initially useful aspects of post-modernism around critiques of meta-narrative, grand narrative, grand narrative in particular, and that, “Hey, we shouldn’t reify all this stuff,” very useful. But then at parts of it, at least major cultural parts of it, hurdled, it became what I like to call cultural nihilism. And later, Peterson is clearly a response to that.
And I think you phrased it very nicely. It’s the reactionary response, right? The, “Hey, we’re in a weird place here with pervasive cultural nihilism. Let’s return to 1965 where we all knew our place.” And remember, knew our place meant women were subordinated to men, black people in the United States and the South in particular, but frankly all over the United States, were legally subordinated in many ways to other people. I mean, 1965 was not a good place in many, many ways, and yet it feels safe as compared to cultural nihilism. And so I take the distinctions you make as instead of going back, let’s think about moving forward. Let’s take what’s useful from modernism, what’s useful from post-modernism and step to the next level, which is metamodernism. Would you say that’s a fair summary?
Hanzi: Well, yes, that’s a fair summary of my position at large and what we have discussed in other interviews and explored together. And I suppose in many ways, what links together all of these different communities or projects in the Liminal space. Game B has a similar approach, I suppose. Speaking of this book in particular, it’s not necessarily here to defend my philosophy or to just teach about the future of society and its development. Rather, it’s a handbook for sanity among the groups who are already doing these things because, well, if I’m quite frank, what I see around you and me and the community that I feel as a part of, and I suppose in my own life as well, is there are mad potentials. There really are. And you see so much talent and just people excelling in so many areas, so much creativity, so much idealism, such a dynamic intellectual and spiritual culture.
At the same time, I see, well, relationships not working out, projects just washing up on the nearest shore. I see lives crashing. I sometimes see people crashing. And you could argue, “Well, then just read Jordan Peterson’s rules.” But if you do and you follow them step by step, you end up being a boring conservative and you’re still part of a world that’s going down the drain because you’re going to basically reproduce it. So how do we create a life philosophy, an embodied life philosophy that is congruent with being crazy, with being radical, with thinking outside of the box? So we need something like sober radical people or sober crazy people, I would say. And this is the book for, well, it’s written in honor of this ideal, the sober crazy person.
Jim: Yeah, I love it. That’s great. Now let’s go back a step back into maybe root causes. In all your books, including this one, you are very emphatic, and as listeners of my show know, I 101% agree, we live in a world entirely devoid of all magic and all miracles. You are a modest with underlined explanation point, no supernatural. God damn it, right? And this stance, let’s call it radical enlightenmentism, of which I am 100% in agreement, has been hypothesized as the root cause of the so-called meaning crisis, particularly well-known exposition on this by John Vervaeke in his brilliant 50-hour video series. And by the way, people, there’s also a 10-hour audio series on the Jim Rut show of me talking to Vervaeke of cooking his 50 hours down to 10. And so we have this, I believe, the correct decision to reject two world thinking, to reject magic, to reject the supernatural. And yet, as you also point out, this leaves a lot of people at sea and they don’t seem to have found any solid ground. And so part of your effort of your work, again, as I’m putting words in your mouth, is to help people find some solid ground on the other side of relinquishing the two world model and the magic and the supernatural and the miracles that go with all that.
Hanzi: Well, yeah. So I mean, it all depends on what we put in the word magic. But let’s say magic is anything that breaks the laws of physics or anything that puts in a black box of completely unaccounted for causality that is being taken seriously. And you can argue in degrees of magic, and you could use different pseudoscientific arguments or experiments to try to introduce different magical aspects into the world. However, as I’ve spoken of before, magical thinking shows up not less in highly developed people, but more often in highly developed personalities. And this appears to be a paradox, right? Because if enlightenment meant the removal of superstition, the removal of all of these black boxes, just putting flashlight on the dark, how can more enlightened people believe in magic more? Well, there are different ways to grow as a human being to become more enlightened.
And one of them is through direct phenomenology, meaning we experience a richer fabric of the world. We experience greater wholeness, we experience the world more directly, more vibrantly as something that is alive. And we experience that we fall in love with the world. That we experience its beauty, it’s mystery. And when we’re not in spiritual experiences or we are not in as, in my term, as high subjective states, then the world appears more mundane to us. So the reason that we have so many highly developed people become so magical in their thinking is that there’s nothing about human development that is unidimensional. There’s no particular reason for it to develop for us as human beings and our perspectives to develop in lockstep. So it can very easily happen that we have more sense of the enchantment of reality than we have cognitive capacities and models in our mind to explain those same phenomena.
And when that happens, there’s a gap between our rational capacities, as it were, and our sensual or phenomenological or spiritual capacities or existential capacities. And that gap is filled with magical thinking because all the time, you’ll be walking around with a new pressure, with a new pressure, with a new pressure on you that, “Oh, there’s more to the world. It’s more magical than I can explain with my mind.” So eventually your mind buckles over, buckles down, and you start to believe in some kind of magic. People report this if they’ve had a major psychedelic breakthrough, for instance, they start become more magical. They take up a spiritual practice or contemplative path, and if they travel along the path, then they start believing in actual miracles, even though, well, they’re entirely preposterous beliefs, of course.
And they get upset, they feel it’s an insult to this beauty and mystery of the world to not believe in those things. And the magical beliefs in and of themselves feel that, “Wow, I just opened a Pandora’s box where really anything is possible.” And that in and of itself creates a suggestive mind, which puts you back in high states. So the sense of the magical or the belief in the magical supports religious experience, which is why religions have so much magic in them. However, you have the opposite pathology, your mind can explain more than your phenomenology can sense, then you will always feel that the world is dead matter or somehow dull or mundane, and there’s a gap in the opposite direction. And that gap is filled with reductionism, with a subtle anti-spiritual sense of wanting to get back at the world, wanting to explain it away, to turn each stone and see, well, the Wizard of Oz behind the curtains basically, and to dethrone them, dethrone all the charlatans.
And the main task, and this is something that’s underlying in the book, The 12 Commandments, and the 12 Commandments work towards, but it’s not a direct, let’s say, dogma of the book. But if you ask me, from the perspective of developmental psychology, we know there is such a thing as oscillating between opposites, things that seem opposite, two polarities that seem opposite. And first, you just get stuck in one. You get stuck in either reductionism or magical thinking. You get stuck in either enlightenment or spirituality. As you begin to develop, let’s say, a metamodern sense of these things, metamodernism is a lot about oscillation between sincerity and irony, so irony would correspond to scientific skepticism and sincerity would correspond to magical belief and religious experience. And at first, most people simply get stuck in one or two, one or the other, or have to compartmentalize their minds radically.
So they will believe something else on Sunday, and then on Monday they go back to the lab where they work. And what they believed yesterday about transmutation, for instance, at church just makes no sense whatsoever. That’s compartmentalization. But if you try to integrate these things, one thing tends to kill off the other. Now eventually, what you start doing is you oscillate between both. And to begin with, this is very, very difficult. The farther you go in the direction of skepticism and growing a rational mind and a skeptical mind, and a scientifically grounded worldview, the more difficult it becomes to have religious experiences or experiences of spiritual wholeness. On the other hand, the more you are in experiences of religious wholeness or spiritual wholeness, the more suggestible you become and the more likely you are to be gullible and make so preposterous assumptions that there’s no way for you to find your way back to just common sense in the scientific or enlightenment sense.
So at first, you have to really pull yourself from one polarity to the other and it’s really heavy. It really sticks. Your mind really sticks to that side of reality. So you have to really, really pull yourself, and then you fall back in the other one. And then it’s really difficult to pull yourself out of that, and you get better and better at that skill at oscillating. At aha, when you are having a spiritual experience, you put in a little anchor, a little warning, a little red flag so that you can remember it later and deconstructed later. When you are learning about the world and its structures, you put in a little anchor, a little red flag there, and you re-enchant the explanation and the crudity of it, and you find the mystery in it. And you get better and better at going back and forth.
So it goes from this heavy lugging from these two irreconcilable positions to eventually a real oscillation. The oscillation gets faster and faster. You get better and better at straddling both position. Eventually, you get beyond an oscillation, your mind makes a leap to a third position or into a superposition where both are true simultaneously. And then you can go farther into either direction. And if you look at it from that superposition, it appears actually as though the more ruthless you become in your scientific scrutiny of reality, the farther you can safely travel into the magical realm and into spiritual experience. The farther you go into spiritual experience, the more you are in high states. High states align with more complex modes of thinking, the more you can actually understand about reality in whichever domains you study it, and the more intuitions you have. So there is actually a direction that goes beyond the divide of science and spirituality, but I feel that nobody really formulates it really well. They tend to be either Trojans for religion or Trojans for scientific reductionism.
Jim: Well, there are some new people out in the world doing some interesting integrations. In fact, the previous podcast to this one, which actually just came out today as we’re doing this interview, is with a guy named Brendan Graham Dempsey, and he’s written a book called Emergentism, a Religion of Complexity for the Metamodern World. And here, he makes a secular religion out of complexity and the phenomenon of emergence. I think there are times he goes a little far with it, but it is interesting because he’s also a very deeply spiritual person. And while I critique him a little bit on where I think he cheats and falls a little too far over on the magical line, nonetheless, the main thrust of his book is I think a useful integration. And then the other person I’m aware of that’s working at this third stage, as you call it, is John Vervaeke and his religion that is not a religion. And again, I had him on the show along with Jordan Hall together a few weeks ago. And so there is work going on in this third world that is intellectually honest in a scientific sense, takes reductionism and extends it with complexity. And then also says all the above is compatible with a serious exploration of the spiritual realm, so it’s starting to happen.
Hanzi: It is. And when I say no one, I mean none of the large or established voices in our time. I’m friends with both with Brendan Graham Dempsey and John Vervaeke. And yes, I suppose I would rate my own book or I would place my own book in a similar tradition. Yes.
Jim: Great. Let’s move on here because we have plenty of time, but you have a lot of ground to cover, a very important part of your thinking, and it’s gone through all your books and you bring it home here again, I think it’s important that we introduce this to the audience who mostly have not read your books. What a shame, everybody should read your books. And that’s the idea of state and it’s relationship to happiness. Take it away.
Hanzi: Well, in [inaudible 00:28:03] books, I-
Jim: Take it away.
Hanzi: So well, [inaudible 00:28:03] books, I mentioned state as one of four fundamental developmental dimensions. And state is a little bit different. It doesn’t necessarily develop in stages as your personality might for instance. But state basically means, there’s this word from philosophy called phenomenology. Phenomenology means first person reality.
The reality as it appears through your eyes, the taste in your mouth, the background sound of the buzzing, computer fan, just the rich tapestry of all the objects around, where do they all come from? How does this all appear? Right? And in that phenomenology, you can go deeper and deeper and you’ll notice more and more things. So you’ll notice your feeling somehow. Right?
It feels like something to be you at this particular moment. You can feel, well, a little bit apprehensive or anxious, or you can feel just not tuned in or just distant. Or you can have really, really low states where you experience sheer terror of some kind, and you feel you’re stuck in a loop or some incomprehensibly dark hell, which reveals itself now as a grim, as a cruel surprise.
This was where you were going all the time. But there are also the higher states, right? And that go beyond everyday life where we sort of just feel, “Okay, my life isn’t, reality isn’t actually so much about little me doing this little thing, I was trying to do my job or whatever I thought I was doing. I’m actually part of this huge cosmic expanse and I am conscious and I have the capacity to love and somehow everything is going to be all right.”
Right? And most of the time, really, really, most of the time we are in some sort of medium range of states. So all of the things that we would recognize from everyday life, from being very joyous and lively all the way down to being severely, severely anxious and almost well, don’t feel like going on anymore. So in that range, if you put different numbers to these states, you might say, well, the first four states could be really low states or the first three ones.
And then from there on you could add, well, we’re being really anxious, being a little bit anxious. To that state, you get to a number seven out of 13 here. And a number seven would be, well, what everyday life, if we’re completely honest, probably feels like for most of us, most of the time, not for all. And this is the important point, but state seven is when you are okay, dot, dot, dot sort of.
You’re okay, but there’s a little tension in your back, there’s a little worry in your mind, there’s a little uneasiness somewhere in the body. You just don’t feel entirely at home. And you might sometimes find yourself wondering, what is it that makes life seem so easy for everybody else? Right?
Why is everybody else walking around seemingly more into flow and I feel a little bit off or outside of it all the time? Likely this is the reason that we feel this so often or that we’re in the state seven so often probably has to do with the civilization. It probably easier to be one state up at state eight in pre-civil societies or let’s say Stone Age societies.
And if you do take that one step up though, if, then our normal is that okay sort of, well, state eight would be okay genuinely, just okay. I’m just genuinely okay. You just have a sense of safety and okay-ness. Well, you might not be super thrilled. You might not be having a spiritual orgasm. You might not be seeing the light of your life or feeling an intense beauty of everything, but life feels fresh and alive and you are there and life is happening and it’s you are sort of at home.
And I think everybody almost has at least that we varied into different degrees in states and we will, I mean, we’re different as organisms. We will have experienced higher and lower states than one another. Somebody was locked in a torture chamber, they will have experienced lower states than most other people. Or somebody had a very strong spiritual experience and perhaps had a nervous system predisposed for that.
They will have experienced the highest states, which others haven’t. So but almost everybody will have experienced these two states when. We were kids, at least we experienced state eight more often or unless we had very sad childhoods. Right? So there is something about that we are in a kind of, well, it’s a crazy world. It’s a crazy world where we’re arguing to ourselves and to one another, that being in state seven is what life should be about. So we can, and we should strive for state eight. And this book, 12 Commandments works to create the clarity for that state eight.
Jim: Okay, that’s good. That’s very good. Let me respond to that. I’ll just sort of mention in passing, in my own life, I would say I’ve ranged from four to 11, four meaning tormented. One particular bad medical event comes to mind, and 11 vast grand open. Light dose of LSD, as I recall, was one of the participants in that one. But I’ve had that experience before. So I’ve swung fairly widely across it.
But I would say I’m mostly an eight and sometimes a nine. And I’d also, I’d love to think about whether this tendency to seven, which I absolutely agree with you, that the bulk of people today are not at ease in wherever it is we are at maybe relatively recent.
Because when I think back at my parents, the so-called greatest generation or the older silence, people born in the twenties, they’d lived through the depression, they’d lived through World War II, and now they were living in fairly modest post-World War II suburbia with a community swimming pool and pretty good schools.
And they thought life was great. I’ll tell you, they frankly did. They were well satisfied. I would say they were good solid eights, most of them. Of course, there were some that had tendencies towards depression, towards alcoholism, towards domestic violence, whatever. But if I had to say where was the center of the bell curve in 1965, this is again properly the draw of Jordan Petersonism, I suspect most adults in say 40 years of age.
How old my parents would’ve been, say in 1965? They been in their early forties. They were generally satisfied. And even higher, us boomers when we were young, I would say might be your state nine, good and lively. Say, I could still think back when I was 21 years old, 1975, the changes from the sixties were happening. They hadn’t fully curdled yet. We didn’t quite know how far it would go.
There was good drugs, a sexual revolution was in full swing, there were no STDs that you couldn’t cure with a shot of penicillin. Things really felt good and lively,, again at the middle of the bell curve. There were a lot of people that weren’t sharing it. But I think the significant percentage of boomers when they were young were in the nine category.
Though of course, when they met the real world, they fell down to eight, “Oh, we got to go to work. Jesus, that kind of sucks. And work for the man, that kind of sucks.” And some of them have fallen into seven. But I suspect that this, anyway, but long way to say, I suspect that this central tendency of seven-ness may be a relatively recent phenomena of late stage game A. What do you think about that?
Hanzi: I think so, yes. I think also we can expect that life is going to get tougher, given just the mounting complexity of the lives that we live, just the amount of factors that you have to relate to, the deluge of information. But of course, also the growth that we have enjoyed, economic growth and other things and the progress that we have enjoyed hangs by pretty thin threads.
And if the geopolitical situation changes, as it very likely will due to rising pressures of climate change, and of course the changing world order with the Bretton Woods system no longer being upheld, with power struggles among major powers, with the democracy receding in the world and with the no clear visions or goals that are easily available to wide swaths of the population.
And of course, the demographic crunch that we’re just about to experience now with so many old people in the twenties and the thirties and forties and a smaller generation taking care of those, and they have even fewer children. So even fewer will take care of even more people pretty much around the world. A few countries like the United States are likely to do a little bit better.
So I mean, if you look at all those pressures, the general state is going to go down, which makes it yet more important that we become masters of our own subjective states. That if we don’t go down a state as easily, if we are good at managing our subjective states, the subjective states of the people around us, we will have more social resilience. We’re likely to more productively and energetically respond to the challenges that we’re about to face.
We’re less likely to overreact, we’re less likely to buy into crazy schemes we found, we find, and far out hopes we might find on the web through conspiracy theories or stuff like that. And it particularly holds true for people who sort of live these renegade lives of the transnational creative class, one might say, or the triple age population, the hippies, the hipsters and the hackers.
If these populations are not good at both, noticing subjective states and creating a good bedrock of returning to state, if not going up to state eight and above, at least anchoring in state seven, then well, we’re going to make things worse. That’s another big theme in this book, right? That all your activity, all your fervent striving, what happens if it’s not the right thing to do?
It’s better to feel better, to be clear in your mind, and then you will be more likely to not be making things worse in the world. That’s a very important part. Whereas in, for instance, Peterson’s work, that personal religion is so important that you might as well have picked up a bad personal religion and you’re laying your life down for something that’s just making matters worse. But if people feel better, they’re likely to pick up more laid back, sensible religions.
Jim: The funny thing about Peterson, I read his first book Maps of Meaning, and in it, he confesses that he’s an atheist. Right? And yet that he has his fan base has kind of been towards the more traditionally religious, which I always find curious. Anyway, with all this has been great setup. Now let’s move on and let’s talk about the 12 Commandments. First one, live in a mess, moderately.
This is a direct response to Peterson who talks about cleaning up your room. You say in the book, and this is a direct quote, “So you don’t owe having a neat home to anybody, nor do you have to have a life in perfect order to valuably partake in society and work for its improvements.” Damn right.
In fact, if you think about the Peterson vibe, the alternative, clean up your room and extend it to clean up your house, et cetera, you end up with the stereotypical 1950s housewife vibe, the so-called Mrs Clean types that my mother used to laugh at. And I was happy to see that you quoted some research that showed intelligent people tend to be messier.
You look at my office, it proves I’m intelligent. And you had another great aside where you showed the offices of Hitler and Einstein. Oh dear. And you also pointed out that this attitude, it can lead to judgmentalism, which has all kinds of other implications. So I’ll turn it back to you for a brief brief comment about the first commandment.
Hanzi: Well, yes. A common response when I mentioned this is that people say, “Well, you missed the deeper point.” Right? That Jordan Peterson means you should have your cell, your emotions, your values set straight. You shouldn’t be projecting your own issues onto huge, impossible social issues out there in the world. So maybe it’s not patriarchy, maybe it’s your dad.
You need to figure out your relationship to your dad, and then you’ll worry less about patriarchy, if you do, which I think is an important argument. It’s just that it’s one side of two symmetrical arguments. The symmetrical argument, counter-argument to be made is that, well, sure there’s social reductionism so that you take an individual issue or an individual responsibility and you reduce it to a social or sociological issue that you can’t do anything about.
And then you struggle about that thing instead of taking responsibility for your own stuff, right? That’s a good argument. But there’s conversely individualist reductionism so that you will take a social issue and you turn it into an individual responsibility.
So let’s say you live in, I don’t know, Jim Crow law, under Jim Crow laws, and your life is not flourishing as a result of the Jim Crow laws, for instance. And well, it’s just crazy for somebody to argue, “Well, this is your own responsibility, your own fault.” Sure, it’s your responsibility how you respond to it, but fundamentally you have to try to actually change the Jim Crow laws because they’re going to discriminate you.
Jim: All right. Well, let’s move on here. We’ve got plenty of ground we have to cover. Second one, let’s dig into this a little bit more. I’m not going to say anything, I’m just going to turn it over to you. Fuck like a beast?
Hanzi: Yeah. Fuck like a beast. It has a theme song. It’s Fuck like a beast, my wasp. And it is the chapter about cosmo eroticism. So this is a term I didn’t invent. This rather controversial thinker, I think invented it, Mark Gaffney. I know through my friend Zach Stein. So cosmo eroticism is about, well, basically we can either like the world or we can dislike it, we can like reality or dislike it. And I think it’s fair to both dislike it and like it.
And I would much rather honestly dislike reality and the people in it and well, all the suffering and so forth, and all its craziness than dishonesty like it, right? So sincerity or authenticity or truth is still the highest value here. But if you can choose, of course, it’s better to reality than to dislike it, to be in love with life than to feel that it’s an awful, dark, tragic mess. So how do we get there? And well, one thing is that we have to feel alive. We have to reconnect to and through our bodies, through ourselves as animal creatures, and we have to fuck like beast. We have to get over our inhibitions.
Jim: And of course, Freud famously published his book, Civilization and Its Discontents. Right? That there is this tension that we want to fuck like a beast all the time, but if we do, things ain’t going to work so well. So is there tension here and we just need to set the equilibrium point differently, perhaps?
Hanzi: Well, that’s not exactly the point I’m making. But yes, I do reference Freud there. And Freud, he sort of just backs us in a corner. He says, “Well, so there’s this dilemma, you can’t really solve it, you can manage it.” I’m not entirely in disagreement with that point.
I think, however, somewhat more optimistically it is that to get over your inhibitions in almost every case, what you need to do is to get through your traumas and these blockages that you have of the emotional body that you are carrying around. Right? What does it feel like to be you in your chest right now? What does it feel? Is there a tension or contraction in your throat?
Can the belly shine with those sort of warm smile when you think about something that makes you happy or when you enjoy something you’re going to eat? Can you look at a landscape and notice its beauty or not? Right? And this, there’s a certain prison or jail that we can end up in when life is on mute, when something bothers us or something is unhealed or unaddressed.
And there is a tension in our body and in our mind, where we, well, we just dial down everything, the hurt and the pleasure and the joy and the aliveness. And we sort of live life on mute. And that’s the real secret to fucking like a beast. You don’t actually even have to live a [inaudible 00:46:54] lifestyle or party or anything like that.
It is about successfully reconnecting to that hurt inner child, protecting it and helping it stand up straight again, helping it just feel your emotions, honestly. And oftentimes this means that we can unlock our sense of aliveness at the very moments in life where things are most difficult. Because then we’re being challenged to face difficult issues in our lives and we can address these blockages or existential dead ends that we got ourselves into.
So it’s a matter fundamentally of going into more free flow, but going through the pain. And you go through the pain by actually getting in trouble. You get in trouble, you resolve the trouble, something let’s go in you, something that kept you back for a long time. You notice you breathe more freely. And what do you know? Everything appears from a highest subjective state.
You begin to be able to speak without inhibition. You begin to be able to think without inhibition and just do what your heart desires. You begin to be able to make love more passionately. Or not, if that’s not even what you want, right? But to unleash that inner child, right? To nurture that inner child, then you unleash the beast. That’s the main point of the chapter, I suppose.
Jim: Yeah, of course we could talk about this one all day, but we got to move on. So that’s good. Let’s go on to the third one, live sincerely, ironically. Now interestingly, I have at times spoken out against the idea of sincere irony in meta modernism, but I’m slowly starting to come around a little bit. Brendan’s book I think was a little bit helpful there. But on the other hand, I’m still a bit skeptical about irony as a stance.
In fact, I recently did a podcast with Nora Bateson, Currents 061 that was titled The Turn to Earnestness, when we had a really fun time riffing on irony, meta irony, post irony. I don’t think we got to sincere irony, but we’re saying that just adds noise to the system. It seems to be a technique for cowards if they won’t actually own what they’re saying.
God dammit, too much irony in the world. Well, on the other hand, the little spice of irony in literature is great, and in joking around with your friends and making sarcastic comments. And dramatic irony like Shakespeare loves to do, where the characters don’t know the facts that the audience knows, et cetera, is a useful form. But anyway, with my sort of initial distaste for the high amount of irony that seems to be loose in the world, there does seem to be something kind of an interesting integration around your ideas of sincere irony. So take it away.
Hanzi: Yeah. Is the exact thing we talked about before with science and spirituality. This chapter encapsulates that philosophy, right? That you cannot be sincere enough if you are not entirely ironic as well. And there’s a simple, an elegant argument for that being the case. Ironic means that you, or humor means you hold two stances at once. It means you hold a reality as hypothetical or in super position to something else that could be real. So you can switch back and forth.
That’s how you make a joke. You change the perspective of something. Did you see the guy who got cut in half? He’s all right now. That’s a joke [inaudible 00:50:58] you switch the perspective between the reassuring and the gruesome, right? And irony basically means that you distance yourself through a certain skepticism, that you are aware of not everything I say is going to be correct. Not everything I believe is going to be correct. Not everything and not all the relationships that I express are going to actually turn out as we say they are.
Right? So you might stop there, but then you were in the post-modern position. It’s one of skepticism, it’s one of irony, it’s one of shifting, of never getting caught, of being a Houdini, right? Of always taking yourself out of the shackles of whatever concepts that people put on you or whatever games you’re in. But of course, if you’re just stuck in irony, you have nothing to live for and nothing to believe in at the end of the day.
So irony is closely connected to skepticism. However, if skepticism is brought to its last point or to its end point, it has to become skeptical even of itself. And then it cannot be all encompassing. So because if you’re just skeptical towards everything, you’re not being skeptical against your own skepticism. So if you’re also skeptical against your skepticism, you have to also have the capacity to be sincere, to be authentic.
Now from the other position, the argument becomes much simpler if you start from the authenticity side. So you’re sincere about something, well, how sincere can you be? If you haven’t turned every stone and looked at the possibility that you might be wrong? Then you are not sincere, you’re just hysterical. Now Hitler was not ironic about his stuff. He meant business, but he could have done with a little bit more irony. Or Hitler’s is far out, but let’s go closer.
Let’s say Ken Wilber. Ken Wilber is the leading spiritual philosopher in America still today. And he was not very ironic about his endeavor. Integral theory was literally the theory or post theory or post religion that was going to reconnect everything that humans know across the world and all the different kinds, life forms and cultures of humans and all of their religions and all of the sciences.
And people went full on, full speed and said, “Okay, this is the thing.” And they created what? Cults, where they were 0% ironic about what they were doing. They were really, really sincere. I met these people. And I still know them today, and they regret it very much.
But at this time, when you met these people, they had starry blank eyes, right? The eyes of a true believer, and they wanted everything to be about this one thing that they really believed in. Now were they actually being sincere? No, they weren’t. They were lying to themselves. Because to be sincere, you also have to be ironic enough to check your facts, to check the counter position, to leave a certain amount of doubt, to leave the possibility that you could be wrong.
And not only that, to admit that, “Hey, everybody else was pretty much wrong about most things, most of the time in terms of life philosophies and worldviews and religions and everything else, and politics, certainly. What do you think you are? Of course, I’m going to be wrong too.” So to be really sincere about your sincerity, you have to be ironic. So ironic sincerity is just real sincerity. And sincerity without irony is just not real sincerity.
Jim: Yeah, I like that. In fact, I have a variant on that, that I apply to myself. I like to say, my opinions are strongly stated, but weekly hell.
Hanzi: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I remember that.
Jim: Sometimes I come across like a bearded philosopher on a mountain. But truth of the matter is, I am entirely open to reconsidering anything because I know as you do, as you said, the history of ideas is that essentially all ideas have been wrong. The question is, have they been wrong in small details or in big details? But all ideas are wrong. So anything I say is obviously wrong. The question is how much? So don’t be afraid to push back God dammit.
Hanzi: And Jim, I insist on also just mentioning the thing about defensiveness. So…
Hanzi: So we’ve been taught, of course being defensive is bad. So defensive means, “Oh, you’re not all in. You don’t really believe in it.” But well, let’s be a little bit careful about that. If somebody shows up at your parking lot and says, “You stole my car,” and you.
Hanzi: … Your parking lot and says, “You stole my car.” And you say, “No, I didn’t. How could you accuse me of that?” And they go, “Why are you being so defensive?” Because I didn’t actually steal the car, right? If you actually didn’t steal the car, it makes sense to defend yourself. And people who want to slander you are likely to use the argument that you’re being defensive. So just putting that in. But also, in terms of a writer being defensive, here’s the thing, if we are successfully defensive, if we have intelligent defenses, meaning that you have a stance that is so well thought out that others can’t do shit to you, what happens? You become relaxed, and you become real, and you can express every thought that you have, and put it on paper and publish it without a blink.
So that’s what sincere irony does. If I have an electric wire with a certain message and it’s a thick cable, there are things about life and death, and love and inhibitions and fucking like a beast, and well, it’s almost a religious message in the book. I can be so real about it, including the fact that I’m writing the book to sell books, not this one, but other books, because I’m being ironic. If I was not being ironic, so that the thing could both be true and not true at the same time, I could not be this real, then I would not be in superposition when I’m writing. So I would have to say either A or B, and either that I’m doing this because I really believe in it, or I’m saying it because I’m trying to sell books. But either one would not be correct, right? So the defense, a good defense means you can be more real, and that’s just like a well defended country can have more peace, sort of like that.
Jim: Got it. Well, listen, I will say sincere irony is growing on me. I do actually particularly love the idea of superposition, right? That is a really deep concept, and particularly when one’s thinking, to hold two ideas in your mind at once, don’t even oscillate. Just actually hold two ideas at the same time, and see what happens. It’s really quite interesting. So let’s move on. Time, time, time. I’m going to skip the fourth commandment. It’s actually very good, quite sensible, called Turn Workout into a Prayer. And if you’re thinking about your New Year’s resolutions, et cetera, strongly recommend it. But let’s move on to number five. Fifth commitment. Quit. It’s actually something near and dear to my heart. In fact, probably the best presentation I ever did, and it was supposed to be turned into a movie, but somehow the company that was doing it ran out of money or something.
It was called Shoot the Puppy, and the subtitle was The Journey From Idea to Exit. It was advice for entrepreneurs from my life as an entrepreneur, businessman, and an investor, and Shoot the Puppy was the key, which is in life, you only have a certain number of bets, is the way I described it. And to continue to soldier on, on a journey that is probably going nowhere, just out of pride or pigheadedness or stuckness, is a waste of your life energy, because you lose other opportunities to make other bets doing other things. And I am really, really a believer in this. Don’t get stuck.
And not only does it apply to managing one’s career, but it also, as you point out very vividly, it also has to do with some of the problems we have in our relationships. Do I really have to argue with my wife about what happened at somebody’s wedding 10 years ago? I’m a person who enjoys a fight and likes to win, and so I can tend to be anchored on engaging in an argument that is not only not necessary, adds no value, but has potential to do hurt and harm to another person, and to a relationship. So I’m all with you that the fine art of quitting is a skill that we all have to be good at. What say you to that and more?
Hanzi: Correct, correct. I mean, first of all, this particular rule is a possible answer out of a number of possible answers to a situation. You can quit, you can soldier through, you can never give up. And there’s not one correct answer to these things. However, quit deserves to be a commandment here, given that it’s just under emphasized. We’re touted all a day long with advice, with cultural norms and so forth that say, well, quitting is for losers. And if you soldier through, if you fight to the end, it shows your character, it shows you’re a better person, it will reward you. And sometimes that’s the case. It’s a case to case thing. But given that quit is under emphasized, the strength of quit has also largely gone unseen. And my argument is the reason that quit is so important is that it is the basis of freedom. A slave, per definition, is a person who can’t quit.
An employee can quit, or you can even quit family if you have to. And knowing that means that you know that you chose that relationship, that you chose, that project, that you chose that job or that habit, and then you can actually apply yourself with greater energy. Now, of course, quitting in terms of personal relationships should be… Well, it’s the nukes basically. If you bring it up every week when you have an argument with your spouse, well, if you bring this up again, I’m going to quit, or I’m going to leave you, then of course you ruin the marriage just doing that. So you should know that these are the nukes. And if you, like Putin, mention the nukes every two weeks, then well, the results are not going to be to your advantage. But just knowing that you have the nukes, that you can quit, and practicing that skill.
So you quit little things. Quitting is hard. It takes courage. It takes courage to quit a job and see what happens, or quit a marriage. Maybe you’re 55 plus or something, and you are unhappy in your marriage. You might get really scared of being lonely or something like that. So given that it’s so scary and difficult, it makes sense to always remember to quit little things. To quit less important things so you have this skillset, you know the landscape of what happens when you leave something behind. And then of course you notice, “Oh, if I don’t do X, Y, and Z instead, what do I do?” Well, first maybe you just stare at the wall and you’re depressed, but eventually you’re going to find new things, and those things are more likely to be more optimized for your later self. And given that we have very complex lives, with very complex life stories, and multiple threads these days, very different life phases, chances are we do better if we quit a little bit more than we have thus far.
Jim: Yeah, great. I think though, yeah, you make the good point that there’s obviously times to soldier on. And in fact, many people’s best successes come from soldiering on, but probably we, in our current popular culture, we underestimate the power of quit. And to your point, that when you do quit, it often frees time. I, for instance, periodically prune the boards that I’m on. Somehow I get on these boards of advisors, and boards of directors, and every year I try to prune that damn list, and quit ones that are at the bottom of my interests, and it frees up some time to do something new. So let’s move on. This next one is an interesting one and pretty rich one. Number six, do the walk of shame.
Hanzi: I know the title of this chapter confuses people, and people have asked me what it’s about and so forth. Walk of shame, of course, it can be in popular culture while you walk home after you’ve been at a hookup, you are with a hookup you shouldn’t have. Or the queen in Game of Thrones, she walks through the city and everybody shouts shame, shame, shame at her, right? These are the images that come up. And the walk of shame here is not a public event, it’s a walk through your own gallery of shameful memories, the lane of shameful memories. And well, if we connect back to the earlier one, fucking like a beast, it’s about breaking through, coming over your inhibitions. What’s the most inhibitory feeling? Well, there are different, more emotions. There’s fear, of course, if you’re scared, you’re inhibited. There’s guilt that also tends to close you down.
But the most commonly applied one in everyday life is shame. So shame inhibits you, it locks you down, it paralyzes your body, it makes you move less. It makes you shrink, even makes your mind just go blank for a moment. And what can activate shame? Well, things we are ashamed of, obviously, however, are we done with all the things that we are ashamed of? Have we actually thought them through, or did they just not occur recently, and anyone can just activate that little button, and voilà, shame is activated in you again? And chances are most of us, almost all of us, I would wager, have these shame buttons that are just there for people to push, or accidentally touch and activate, or can be activated by just any situation.
So that means we carry around all of this shame, and well, we are affected by it every day. So the walk of shame is basically you do an inventory of your own shameful memories, and you feel through the shame until you get used to it. Until it leaves your body. That’s the idea. I mean, there’s more detail to these techniques in the book, and there are examples how to jog your memory for things we’re ashamed of. But when I just pile together all that list of different things, there’s no way there are a lot of people who don’t have at least some of these things on this list.
Jim: Oh, certainly we likely all do. I’d be shocked if anybody doesn’t have some of them. Here’s a thought I had actually when I was reading. We’ll go on a little bit later, in the book, you talk about the inventory of guilt. And as I was pondering that, I was frankly thinking about some things my own life, et cetera. One of the interesting things about shame, and we’ll get to this when we get to the section on justice, is that many of the things that we were ashamed of when we were younger, in particular, there was really no reason to be ashamed, and sorting that out itself can be useful. While guilt is a little different, in that, yeah, we actually did do something bad, and we should have some negative valence around that. Sometimes you did something allegedly shameful that it really was, but other times it was, you violated some local convention that when you got to be a little older and a little wiser, you realized was idiotic. And I thought that distinction might be worth making.
Hanzi: Yeah. Yes, I can only agree. And if we don’t revisit the shameful memory, we won’t have the chance to look at it a new one. That would be probably be it. The guilt part is also in this same chapter, and it’s basically the same argument except that usually you have to dig a little bit deeper with the guilt, given that, well, we’re ashamed of feeling ashamed, but we usually felt like the victim when we were ashamed. We felt like, “Oh, I’m not good enough,” and, “Oh, people don’t like me,” stuff like that. When it comes to guilt, there are all of these obfuscations of the mind that… I mean, basically bullshit we can pull on ourselves. So to trick ourselves that we weren’t actually guilty, that we had a perfect excuse for doing what we did, and nobody would’ve done it better than we would have in that situation, or that whatever person we did X or Y or Z to deserved it.
And I mean, just the very simplest way to bust through that is to look at our own grievances and make a list. What happened to me? Well, a business partner ran off with a million dollars, and my wife stole my house, and this person lied about me, and this person robbed me, whatever it might be. And the list gets long after a long life. And then you just think about it, for the average person, it has to even out. I know there are psychopaths who hurt a lot of people, but on average it has to even out. There has to be for very item that somebody did something unequivocally, morally dastardly to you, there must be somebody who has something on their guilt list. And if you do that grievances list and then you think, where’s my guilt list? You notice it’s much shorter, and it’s much more difficult to notice what it might have been. And actually to begin with, you might only have one or two things on the list, but hey, you can start from there.
Jim: I got to tell you, I’m the opposite. My shame list is pretty short, because I’m a shameless son of a bitch, but my guilt list is quite a bit longer. But anyway, very important topics. Well worth reading. Let’s move on.
Hanzi: God bless your sinful soul.
Jim: Exactly right. I’ll probably go to hell so I can hang out with all my friends. And so let’s go on to number seven, very briefly, because we have a lot to cover here, and that one’s called sacrifice immortality. And you start out with talking about the fear of death. I must say, I just find that to be a… I just wish people would grow up. Hey, we’re a biochemical homeostasis that operates with amazing fidelity at the sub-second range for 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 years and that it doesn’t, and then you’re dead. So what? That’s the way it is. Don’t worry about it. Live life to the fullest. But our social conditioning makes many of us still have this two worlds model fear of death. And I’ve always thought that was… Since I was 11, and I rejected all that decisively, with an epiphany no less, I’ve thought it was kind of dumb and juvenile, and that being an adult is saying, “Hey, you live until you die, and oh well,” and not getting all worked up about it.
But of course our good friends religion, of the two worlds variety, add to the problem with their concept of things like hell. Christianity and Islam are probably the two worst in that regard, though I imagine some other ones have some pretty interesting hells as well. So people who still sip at that water, even if they don’t even realize it, have internalized this idea. “Oh, maybe when I die, it’s torment forever.” If I had to put in the hall of fame of really bad ideas, that would certainly be one of them. So my short advice, is fucking fear of death, fuck that. Just put that aside. We don’t need that crap. It’s just kind of crazy.
But nonetheless, as you point out, a lot of people are still beset with it. The other item I saw in the chapter, which I said, yes, I know this is true, but something that just seems to me also totally fucked, is that there are people who are ashamed of their strengths, virtues, and talents. What the hell’s that about? That’s, I guess, Nietzsche’s slave morality. I can’t imagine anything more stupid than that. Why would we ever be ashamed of our strengths, virtues and talents? That’s what we need to be positive about. That’s the good stuff. And finally, you have a concept, maybe you can talk about it a little bit, react to my rant, which is fine, but also maybe talk a little bit about reverse death therapy.
Hanzi: So I mean, we can start with the… Let’s just say a few words about the chapter at large. So we’ve gone from shame to guilt to fear, and then we’re taking different aspects of fear. The fear of envy, the fear of death. So slave morality would be the fear of envy. These are different things holding us back, making us not alive. Well, when it comes to fear of death, I’m not entirely sure I quite believe you resolved it as thoroughly as you claim. If you look at Epicurus for instance, he also claimed to have been able to cure the fear of death with a fairly simple, “When it’s over, it’s over. And so there’s nothing to fear.” Now I’m pretty sure though, if we would take Epicurus and a bear runs into the room, he would be frightened. Or if some sort of malicious captor took him, and he would fear pain and ultimately death, I believe, or a very terrible disease or something.
So although we can surmount it to a certain extent, there’s always going to be a lingering part of it. And this is a deeper question that has to do with how you view developmental psychology, or the psychology of the human mind. But I think it’s rather inescapable that we have a lingering part fear of even hell and eternal damnation. Given that if we look at the large stages of human development, and psychologically and culturally, we first get to the religious stage, and it’s, I guess you could call it a third stage of religious or cultural development where the traditional religions reside. So Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and they all have some form of hell realm, which is linked to virtue, or being a good person. So guilt, if you are free from guilt, you don’t get into that hell.
And this was a universal stage of human development, and from there on the enlightenment and other movements could go on. There were versions of this in Ancient Greece as well. But on a mass scale, secularism eventually took a step away from the universality of one God to a universality of one world, where every everybody can, through public revelation, through scientific method, through falsifying or verifying different claims, could find the universal, could find scientific truth. So not the truth of a prophet or a Buddha or the son of God or one particular book, but the universal truth that we all find together through public revelation, through science.
So given that this is a universal step in the mind, we have to have taken that step for us to stop being God-fearing entirely. And given that the mind can always regress, and that the mind is never entirely certain about the reality it creates, there’s always the slight risk that the people who did believe in any of those religions were right, or we might have been brought up in social structures where those things were commonly believed. And you always have a sort of slight background thing. What if every time I swear I’m actually getting there? So I think you have to take these things seriously because they go so deep in the soul, or even organically, and just as we are, as animals who are little children who just happened to grow up, and that little child’s going to be scared of being hurt anyway.
Jim: Yeah, I think it is true that a lot of this fear of death is just the grown-ups version of fear of the dark, frankly. And I will say, maybe I just don’t have enough personal insight, but I believe I am absolutely totally immune to it. In fact, sometimes I like to do a joke if I see somebody with a cigarette and say, “Hey, let me borrow a cigarette,” and I hold it up over my head and say, “Hey, this is how an atheist lights a cigarette. God sucks!” So I suppose there’s some residual somewhere, but man, I feel like I’m about as over it as I could be. But anyway, let’s move on, the clock is ticking. Let’s go on to the next one, which let’s take more time on, which is…
Hanzi: Well, Jim, just to say, the reverse death therapy is just the opposite of thinking who you would be without… If you’ve already gone through your fears, then go through your gifts, and scale them away. Just pick up Occam’s razor, or just any razor and just shear them away, and see what’s left of you when you didn’t have your successes, when you didn’t have all the things that were good that happened to you. That’s the reverse death therapy.
Jim: That is interesting and good. Now let’s go on to the next one. I think it’s a quite rich chapter called Heal with Justice.
Hanzi: So there’s a certain arc in the book, and this is the top of the arc. The book begins with being more laid back, and loosening up a little bit, and then it tightens around you and just really gives you a bit of a rough time. Not necessarily things to do, you can just read the book and see how it activates different parts of you, but you start working through relationships that you might not be wanting to have. You start working through your own shame, through your own guilt, through your own fears. Eventually, if you have done that work, then, but not before then, you can become the righteous rebel. If you are not driven by your own guilt or by your own shame, or you’re not inhibited by your fears or by your lack of lust of life, and you’re not stuck in spiritual bypassing, this is also a thing that’s discussed a lot in the fuck like a beast chapter, right?
And you are okay, what then can you do to heal your life? And the big aha is that it is justice that heals your life. Sure, you have to first find out the truth about which distortions are there of your perspective, et cetera. But justice means wholeness or it means that social relations are put into proportion. And as long as a social relationship is not in proportion so that it’s asymmetrical, there’s exploitation going on, there is based on false premises, on anything else, then it’s going to eventually hurt and eventually cause you to not be alive and happy. And whatever struggles you are doing out there in the world, they have to do with whether or not things align. Just, do the actions align with words, align with the perceptions, align with the emotions at hand. And all of the work that we’ve done thus far is to get those things to align in yourself. Now, the task is to get those to align in the transpersonal space between us, in between-ness of us.
So if we’re going into this world and we’re trying to achieve something and do something, I can’t think of a better true north than to always work towards justice in every social relationship, in every company, in every political situation. Which basically just means that words can easily align with actions, or the narratives, the story that we tell, can align with what people are actually doing, can align with what we are actually perceiving with our eyes, and that can align with how it makes people feel. And the world is just full of misalignments between these four factors, and new such misalignments or new such rifts show up all the time, cracks, cracks in reality, cracks in social reality. So to heal the world is to fight for justice. It’s not necessarily about naval gazing, it’s not about being kind or tough. It’s not about creating one particular political system. It’s not about fighting for this particular group against that one, or this particular religion. It just gets back to this, okay, are the social relationships in proportion? And if you want peace of mind, that’s how you get it. That’s my argument.
Jim: Yeah, I found it resonated with another concept I’ve fallen into fairly recently, which is Carl Roger’s idea of congruence. The idea that we, and I’ve actually… One of the chapters in the Game B book is, if people are mostly good, why do things suck, right? And that’s one of the chapters. And most people actually have good values. They don’t really care about driving around in the fancy Porsche and flaunting their $10,000 watch. They care about being happy, and that their children are sane and happy, and that they have a roof over their head and good healthy food, et cetera.
And yet, somehow what’s emerged in our society is not that. And that the idea of congruence is, wouldn’t it be great if we could live up to our values? And I think that’s just another… Maybe I’ve put words in your mouth here, so take them back if you want, that in some ways, that’s similar to your idea of justice. If we can have a set of deep values and really live them, not just have them and then do something else, then we have a lens that’s really powerful in being both happier ourselves, and probably even more importantly, help bring into being a society that we’d actually be proud of.
Hanzi: Well, yeah. I mean, so basically this is an attempt to link sociology, or the whole idea of social justice to the whole idea of inner and personal healing or development. That aha, you have to become a social justice warrior in your own life. And whatever feminist or anti-racist or environmental struggle that comes after that will flow from a genuine compass of justice. Because you will be, Carl Rogers term, in congruence with yourself, so your words will match your actions, will match what you are perceiving in the world, will match how you are feeling. And if those things are congruent, what happens is they reinforce one another behaviorally.
Hanzi: … Are congruent, what happens is they reinforce one another behaviorally. So your narrative is easier to uphold, because if people ask you critical questions, you actually always have an answer, or you’re much more likely to have an answer, and you’re likely to go home and rethink if you don’t have it, right? So it becomes easier to speak, it becomes easier to act, it becomes easier to be assertive, because you’re more sure of yourself, and you have the motivation, that’s your emotions. So if you want social justice, start with yourself, this is rather Jordan Peterson-ish, but don’t stop with yourself. The work with justice from within, with congruence in your own life, is entirely continuous with social justice in the world.
So the main problem with social justice in the world today is that it’s hypocritical, and that’s what people notice, that wait a minute, you just went after people on a internet forum for using the wrong word, not because you really cared about the rights of trans women, when this person said women rather than pussy bearers, you just went after them so you could feel good about yourself and bully and other person, for instance. We all know these examples, and we can’t help but being suspicious. What the world needs is more social justice warriors, and more fervent ones, and more assertive ones, certainly, but just less hypocritical ones, and this is a book that tries to create the basis for non-hypocritical social justice from within, which then flows out into different projects in the world.
Jim: Yeah, I found that very good. We’re going to have to move on here, there’s one last little item that was in that chapter which I go, huh, I never thought about this before, that you essentially put forth the idea that people who use lots of adjectives when they discuss what they’re doing, it’s a tell of injustice, and that makes a lot of sense.
Hanzi: Yeah, yeah, so North Korea is the example I use in a footnote there, but I can just take another example. So there was a person in my wider networks as being accused of basically being a sociopath and sexual misconduct, some of the accusations seemed to be more substantiated, others not, and I just want to know, is this a good person or a not good person to collaborate with? Some people say he’s good, some people say, “Don’t go there, huge red flags.” So I go to this person’s webpage where he made a huge, he and some of his followers made a huge, huge presentation of just his defense, and there were so many objectives.
First they explained the word maliciousness for two pages, just so that they can make the claim that the person who is making claims against him is making malicious claims, and you can just see at a mile that, okay, something is off here. So be careful with the objectives, because the more solid argument you have, the less you need to skew the language to say, “Well, an evil person walked in and aggressively shouted at me, ‘Please sit down.'” Or you can just say, “A person came in and told me to sit down firmly, or just told me to sit down straight.” Well, if you don’t have to skew the whole thing in your direction, you have less things to hide, then you can just say things more matter-of-fact. That’s the idea.
Jim: Yep, that’s great. All right, let’s move on. Hey, that’s a great lens for people, watch out for people that sling more adjectives than necessary. Yeah, it’s probably a tell that something’s fucked up. Commandment number nine, burn your maps. This is also a very interesting chapter, what do you mean by maps?
Hanzi: So maps is basically your fundamental worldview, and we all start making cognitive schema or maps of the world, some more fundamental than others, but we have, I mean, if you talk to, let’s say you talk to a 20-year-old anarchist who studies sociology and hasn’t yet studied any other social sciences, and not being through so much life experience. I think I can fairly accurately reconstruct this map, the map of this person. So I think if this person were to pretend to be me and write, write an article of what Hanzi Freinacht would say about Elon Musk, I don’t think they could. I think if I sat down and tried to write, what would this 20-year-old anarchist, first year sociology student write about Elon Musk, I could fairly accurately reconstruct what they’re likely to say. So my map seems to contain their map, but their map doesn’t seem to contain my map, in that regard. So your map can grow, it can become bigger, it can become more complex.
Now, to add another dimension to this, it gets really complicated when there are maps that are not congruent, that describe different aspects of reality. So let’s say you take a sociologist, such as myself, and a quantum physicist, and ask us to describe the nature of reality and what’s really real in the world. So my fundamental assumptions will be very different from those of the quantum physicist, and the quantum physicist will not be able to trace all of the thoughts and assumptions that I am making, unless they also study metamodernism, and I won’t be able to track all of the stuff that the quantum physicist was making.
What we’re getting at is that we always have very, very, very limited maps then, and we live our whole lives, and draw our own little heroic story, on some sort of background map. Wouldn’t it be a very good investment in time and resources and in ourselves to maybe put aside some of our efforts to challenge the actual map? Do you want to be the communist who works 30 years for a communist revolution and then you notice, aha, the communist revolution is coming, that was a bad map, the world doesn’t work that way, and you’ve actually done harm all this time. That’s a pretty high price to be paying for not burning your world map, for not burning your map and getting a new one.
So the idea of this chapter is that if you’ve done all the other things thus far you have enough, if you’re not driven by shame, you’re not driven by fear, you’ve already quit relationships that are causing more harm than good things in your life and that might be locking you down or holding your back, then you will have more inner spaciousness, as it were, more inner peace to be able to hold your map less hysterically. You will be able to imagine more, ironically, sincerely ironically, imagine other possible worlds, other possible worlds for you to inhabit. So if we can inhabit other worlds, how do we know we live in the best one? How do we know that our whole life story that we’re telling is even being told on the right background, on the right background landscape? Maybe there’s another landscape.
So it’s a sort of insurance deal with God, that you turn to God, or whatever highest principle you have, and you say, “Okay, I’m going to keep looking into you and seeing what other realities you have for me, and I’m going to be surprised by people who are very, very, very different for me.” Eventually it pays off. I would never have lived in this reality of, let’s say metamodernism, and this whole liminal space that we are in, if I didn’t burn my map several times, and I expect it can happen again in my life, and I’m actively working towards that. So it’s a commandment I follow very stringently myself. And even your justice, let’s say you fight for justice but the only justice you could conceive of was a fairly limited one, and it turns out, in a bigger perspective, you’ve been doing more harm than good, even that thing that really gets you up in the morning, that feels bigger than yourself, that feels worth giving your life for, that thing can change, it will be a moving goalpost if you keep investing and improving your world map.
Jim: Yeah, I know, I’ve radically refactored my world map at least five times in my life, and as you say, I look forward to doing it at least once more, and lots of little ones, it’s really important. And you make another interesting point, is that one of the things that holds us back from making these adjustments is for some reason, it may just be innate to our primate, or human psychology, we have a tendency to think our map is the best possible map, which would be exceedingly unlikely that any given person’s map was the best possible map, but it does seem to be something that our psychology wants us to believe.
Hanzi: It is funny, it is actually, and I’m like this too, but then I notice everybody else is like that as well and just assumes, well, I know you know some other stuff over there, but the real important stuff, and how the world really works, is how I believe it works, and there are just some experiences I have that you just can’t see. I’m pretty sure humans are selfish, for instance, is a thing people can have on their maps, and the reason might have to do with investing our egos in it, but it’s probably an optical illusion. We’re using the best map than we can find, and if we couldn’t find a better map we assume this was the best one, and then we look at everything else through this map, which then self confirms.
Jim: In reality the best thing to do is say, I think this is my best map, it’s almost certainly not the best possible map, so always be on the lookout for ways to improve my map.
Hanzi: Or even burn it.
Jim: Or burn, and I burned it four times, for sure, burn it to the ground, and it feels great.
Hanzi: It does, man.
Jim: It really does.
Hanzi: Maybe not for everybody, not at the beginning, but eventually, yeah, you wake up to a whole new reality.
Jim: And I think of what a stupid-ass boring person I would have been if I didn’t burn those maps, but hey, that’s another question for another day, let’s move on. 10th commandment, do what you hate. Mostly about psychotherapy, a topic I know very little about, and so I’m going to skip over that one in the interest of time. It’s interesting, if you’re thinking about where therapy might fit in your life read the chapter.
Number 11 commandment, kill your guru and find your others. Now this one I love. I personally hate the guru game, which I describe as people running around saying they’ve got secret knowledge that will change everything, but I can’t tell it to you yet until I bore you for years with my horseshit, or get a certain amount of money from you, and then I’ll tell you my secrets and everything will be different. Of all things that piss me off, people playing the guru game is pretty high on the list, and in fact, I actually personally excommunicated somebody from the early Game B, when there was a group of about 25 people, for attempting to play the guru game in Game B. It’s just one of the things that drives me nuts. And you make the very good point that the guru game is also played in totalitarianism and cults, and lots of other bad places. So take it away, kill your guru.
Hanzi: And lots of other bad places, like YouTube.
Jim: And YouTube.
Hanzi: Well yes, so it’s just a tendency we have when we find somebody saying something interesting. Obviously the first person that comes to mind in a context like this is Jordan Peterson, but it is weird just the sheer amount of hours and hours that people just expose themselves to this one man on a screen talking, and I just can’t imagine it’s worth their time. So they must be guru enthralled, is what I imagine. I mean, they are intelligent people, they are people to learn a lot from, there are people to be in dialogue with, et cetera, but usually you will do much better by triangulating different perspectives. And if you notice that you’re really interested in one topic, you might follow a guru for a while, but eventually have to grow out of it, you have to find, okay, now I’m going to find other perspectives, I’m going to burn my maps.
Because nothing really fantastic is going to happen, and most likely you are working from that place that Jung called the golden shadow, or I think some Jungians, rather, called the golden shadow, or I have called slave morality, that okay, there’s a strength or a potential inside of you, and you don’t yet exactly know how to act on it, and you’re anxious about what would happen in your life, the social and other consequences it would have in your life if you really tried to do your thing, or blossom in your unique gift, or just your vision or just your values.
And then you see somebody else doing a little bit more of what you would like to be doing, and you feel in love with them, and you start doing that as a form of pseudo participation. Rather than participating deeply in your own life, you look at somebody else doing what you would imagine yourself to be doing, or something in that direction, and you feel that if I get closer to that person, they will get me closer to who I really want to be and what I really want to do.
Now that is an adult version of believing in Santa Claus, and if it were actually the case we would see lots of super interesting things happening around all of these guru communities, or around these huge YouTube followings that the YouTube gurus have. And somehow all the really interesting people, they’re busy exploring the world everywhere. They’re turning every rock, they’re looking at many different perspectives, and then they’re doing their thing. So if you just notice the pattern, and this is, I mean it sounds obvious when I say it, but what we see in our own networks, for instance, that Jordan Peterson craze was huge, but also that people have been attracted to different gurus or different cult-like settings, et cetera. So once you just notice it, just kill the guru.
There’s even a saying in contemplative, or Zen Buddhism, that if you see the buddhi in the street, kill the Buddha. And this is sort of like that, if you want to be enlightened yourself don’t walk around following the Buddha, you have to go the path. And what do you do instead? Well, then you find people who can actually play laterally with you, who can actually be part of your team, and the rest of the chapter is about that. Well, it’s also about not following rich gurus. You can also get into this guru following because somebody is a billionaire, or something like that, which is also a trap that tends to lock you in because you imagine, if I get closer to this person everything gets real. I get so much closer to my dreams happening or being realized.
But usually the people who actually make stuff happen, or who actually materialize their dreams, didn’t meet one rich person who funded the whole thing. And I see plenty of examples of people getting hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars, and they basically squander them, and they would have been better off in doing more efficient things if they didn’t put up a huge expensive travel budget with all of the money they got.
So basically what you do instead is you find really loyal friends who are on the same wavelength, and that’s much harder than finding a guru. Gurus sell themselves, friends you have to create, and you have to maintain the relationships, you have to get to know each other, you have to find strengths and weaknesses, but it’s so much more fun and productive, and makes you so much more powerful, exponentially more powerful, because you now have the skill sets available of other people who are not you, which is something a guru can never do for you because they’re just sitting there up on a hill and can offer you a few words here and there, right?
Jim: Indeed, very Game B. In fact, in Game B we always say, “The first commandment, find the others.” And then one of our key tools we call coherence, for to really get something done, find some others, as you say, you have trust, you have conviviality, you have transparency with, and then get into true coherence, and suddenly the power is unbelievable. Five people in coherence is a lot more powerful than five individual people.
Hanzi: And the five people in coherence should not have one guru.
Jim: No, no, nobody is the guru, very, very important. Although there is a tendency in our primate ape selves to make that happen, but there are some very good tools, like sociocracy, or having a good facilitator, that can gently nudge us away from the tendency that we want sometimes to worship these plaster saints, which is just not a good idea. All right, onto the last one, we’re at the two hour mark, and that is play for forgiveness. Take it away.
Hanzi: Well, I told you about how the whole book follows an arc, so starts easy, gets tougher and tougher, gets to the top, or the main spine, or the point of the book which has to do with connecting all of this inner work to social justice, and at the end of the day, then it starts to go into the more universal, then it starts to, well, just give you a warm hug, talking about how, if you are fighting for justice, working for justice from the inside out, what are some good tools, and where do you land in life? How is this brought home, so to speak?
And the end of the story, of any good story, is at a happy point. You can have sad stories which each end with a sad ending, or narratives with sad endings, but the narratives with sad endings, they don’t feel entirely concluded. You leave the theater mulling, or you close the novel and you have a lingering feeling. To get the real conclusion, the classical story has a happy ending, and that means that happiness in and of itself actually contains ending or conclusion within it. So the sense of wholeness or happiness has a sense of conclusion within it. And justice is a sort of struggle, or sort of wholeness, and healing is a sort of process, but where does this go? What’s the actual measure of success?
So this chapter argues, this commandment tells you that you must play for forgiveness. It doesn’t say you must forgive. If you would say you must forgive, it sounds too linear. I mean, if somebody’s bullying you at work right now, you can’t just forgive them right now and they will bully you tomorrow as well. You will have to do all the work and stand up for yourself, fight for justice, quit if you have to, and eventually when you can, and when you’re ready for it, forgive. But you know, with a command or play for forgiveness, you remember that this story is concluded when the whole thing is forgiven, when it no longer has a grip on your soul, when there’s no longer resentment poisoning your mind, when you have a sense of letting go, a sense of just openness.
So I think an accomplished life is a life through the living of which we forgive the world for not being perfect, for not being good to us all the time. That there were a lot of things that happened that were difficult, there were a lot of things that happened that were unfair, that weren’t right, and was difficult sometimes to admit, or see clearly enough, that that was not okay, and there are things that are ongoing in the world right now that are just not okay and that we have to change. But even so, at the end of the day, if you’re resentful against the world, if you’re resentful against creation, you’re resentful against God, or the highest principle or the greatest wholeness, then you’re just fighting reality, and reality is always bigger and stronger.
It’s a lot like Christianity but the other way around. We had reverse death therapy from Buddhist, but we also have reverse, so rather than thinking about all the things you could lose, thinking about all the things that you have, that was reverse death therapy. We also have reverse Christianity. Reverse Christianity is the idea that, well, you were taught that there’s a God that can forgive our sins, but it’s the other way around, it’s we that you should forgive God, whether or not we believe in a personal God, if we just look at the imperfections of reality, and just all the crazy shit that goes on, the better we are at forgiving that wholeness, that totality, I should say, the more peace of mind at the end of the day we’ll have and just the better, I can’t think of a higher goal for the soul to achieve. That’s what the commandment says, this is the highest goal to achieve, because whatever else you do stems less from resentment and more from care and love or search for truth.
So playing for forgiveness means you have to take it step by step, you have to be realistic about what you can forgive, and how and when. Well, the chapter includes then a breakdown into the steps of forgiveness, because we tend to think of forgiveness as a binary thing, have you forgiven them? For you must forgive them. We tell each other these things, or I should forgive them but I can’t, or I will never forgive them, we say these things so binarily.
Now, if you break it up in its substeps you notice, ah, there’s always a step to take. To begin with you might want to forgive yourself for putting yourself in a situation where you could be hurt. Okay, that’s not so easy, but it might be an easier first step. From there on you might forgive only the parts of people’s, you might forgive the situation for the complications it brought, or the misery it brought, or is still bringing. From there on you might want to forgive the things that were honest mistakes, and from there on you might want to actually forgive things that were done to hurt you with malice. And from there on there is perhaps the possibility to seeing that there is nothing to forgive, to see that there is a primordial wholeness that just played out as a tragic shit happens in a meaningless universe, because shit just happens, good stuff and bad stuff, and every particular part tried to do its best, but it couldn’t always vis-à-vis the larger whole.
Now you can’t, just telling yourself that last step won’t go so far. So this is a rule, or a commandment that’s here to set the deeper direction for everything that goes on in our lives, and that’s of course where it ends in a open-endedness, that the commandments give you a horizon to conquer and a struggle of the soul to come home to this world, that you’ve been locked out of your life to the degree that you have not forgiven reality, you have not forgiven the world, you have not forgiven your relationships, and you come home to the world so that you will really have lived your life when you can forgive. That’s the point.
Jim: Very good, very good. All right, I think we’re going to wrap it up here, this has been an incredibly interesting conversation, and believe it or not, even though we went long beyond our normal 90-minute length, we didn’t cover a lot of the interesting stuff in this book. So if you found this at all interesting, download 12 Commandments for Extraordinary People to Master Ordinary Life, and as Hanzi said at the very beginning, since many of the people that are listening to this and are likely to read the book are part of our Liminal Web community, let’s get our heads on straight so we really can change the world.
Hanzi: That’s the idea, that’s the idea. Thank you so much, Jim.